The A-B-C's of Auto Mechanics
Turn the pages of most automotive labor guides,
and you'll see not only the “guestimated” time for a
certain job, but also the level of skill required to
perform that certain repair. I've always wondered
who wrote those skill levels and determined what
type of technician should be able to handle a
particular repair. What would be the outcome
if a higher skilled technician did the same job,
and how do you determine a technician’s skill
level in the first place?
I completely agree that a first year tech won't have the same skills as a seasoned veteran. But what about all those people who use the word “mechanic” in such a loose term to explain what they do for a living? Lately I've been taking a completely different view of how I interpret those skill levels. I was thinking, maybe those levels need a more descriptive way of explaining what these skills actually are. Maybe I could enlighten the writers of those labor guides as to what I think they mean, and how it relates to the real world where you find those technicians who are really doing the work. Not in some environment where people are watching the techs every move with a stop watch. Let's start with my descriptions of each of the skill levels. A - “A” mechanic - is truly “A” technician/mechanic. Someone who has the ability to diagnose, repair and complete a project without any assistance. An “A” mechanic will have years of experience and keeps up with the advanced training needed to do his/her job correctly. B - “B” mechanic - This is a tech who is trying to achieve the status of an “A” mechanic. I sometimes refer to them as “wanna B” mechanics. Most “B” mechanics have past tinkering experience, and have turned a few bolts in their day. Obviously, training is a big part of their future. These types of techs need to learn not only how to be a good tech, but how to walk, talk, and perform the required repairs like an “A” mechanic. (However, some techs stay at this level their entire career) C - “C” mechanic - The worst kind. These are the most prolific type of technician out there. Most of these technicians can only repair things they can actually see. Thus... a “C” mechanic. They won't understand what they’re doing, and have no desire to learn or advance up the ladder….. just make a paycheck and go home. I'm afraid to say, these are the type of “mechanics” that give the rest of the automotive world a bad name. A perfect example of a “C” mechanic happened just the other day. A lady brought a car in because the coolant fans weren't working. She had it at another shop prior to coming to me, and they noticed the coolant fan had melted the connector and the fan motor housing. Before even consulting with her they removed the melted parts, and took them up to the lobby where the lady was waiting. They proceeded to give her the hard sell, and told her that the car was unsafe to drive. As she pointed out to me, “What choice did I have? They already had it torn apart, even though I didn't ask them to. I didn't know what else to do, I was stuck there. Since they showed me the parts, I assumed they knew what they were doing.” So, how did her car end up at my shop? If you couldn't guess by now... the fans still weren't working. I proceeded to do some diagnostic work, and determined the problem. The first thing I noticed was that all the clips, fasteners, and wire tie downs were either completely missing or never put back into place, which left all the wiring and other various parts dangling behind the fan housing and very close to the exhaust manifold. As I looked into it a bit further I found they never plugged in one of the two fans. I checked the connector they had installed (from a salvage yard) and found that two of the four wires were installed backwards. Not that big of a deal, it would only have made one fan run on low speed while the other was on high. Easy fix, so far. After plugging everything in, I used the scanner to cycle the fans on. That’s when I found the fan they left unplugged was bent and twisted. The motor was rubbing against the fan shroud, and even after freeing up the motor it wasn't hard to tell the motor itself was burnt from not being able to turn freely. (Nice install job guys…) After giving the customer the bad news, she called the other shop. It wasn't long before I got the call from them. The mechanic started to tell me the condition of the original fan motor, I quickly shut him down, (which he said was rather rude of me... because he was just trying to tell me how he found it.) I didn't care how he found it... I wanted to know... what YOU did to it. Because right now, I've got to undo whatever it is that you've done in order to properly repair it. The problem you had with it isn't the problem I'm having with it; it’s more of a problem you probably created from installing it. This guy was definitely a “C” mechanic. He saw a problem and naturally assumed he could fix it. But while explaining things to me I realized this guy was trying to step up a notch on the automotive technician evolution ladder. Now he's trying to explain the problem to me, but not in any terms that would make sense to any well trained mechanic. It was like talking to a complete novice about a car problem. He knew nothing about how to diagnose the problem just how to change the parts. “I saw smoke come out of the motor, so there's something wrong,” this novice parts changing “mechanic” told me. What's worse, he left the customer paying for all these issues. He should have sent it over himself, and not made the customer assume the responsibility. The customer has already spent time and money to have the car repaired, but it’s not fixed yet.
I realize as a customer it's hard to find someone with an “A” mechanic skill level. I know as a shop owner/technician I run across a lot of “wanna B” mechanics, and see even more “C” mechanics in and out of the trade. Attending advanced classes, lectures, conventions, and being certified is some of the ways to keep up with the new technology. But those labor guides don’t cover all that information. You’re left to figure out if it’s an A, B or C mechanic at the other end of the wrench. So you C, to B an “A” mechanic you need a variety of expertise. Some you’ll gain over years of experience, others you’ll pick up from other good techs or schools. It really does take some skills… just because you can hang a few parts on a car doesn’t make you … … … “A” mechanic.